“You are not to be called ‘rabbi…’ and call no man on earth ‘father?'” – Matthew 23:8-9 – Kenneth Hensley

June 28, 2016 6 Comments

Fuller Theological Seminary product and former Baptist pastor Kenneth Hensley joins Marcus Grodi to look at one of the main verses some Bible-only Christians use to try and prove that Catholicism is unbiblical.  Are Catholics violating a core teaching of Jesus if they call priests ‘father?’  If so, does that also mean we sin by calling anyone ‘rabbi,’ ‘teacher,’ ‘master,’ or even ‘mister?’  In our ongoing exploration of hard verses in the Bible, Marcus and Ken dig into this passage, which has long been the focus of debate in Protestant-Catholic conversations.

Ken is online at kennethhensley.com.

  • Bill G

    When Jesus said, “call no man on earth ‘father’”, He was referring to actual biological fathers. Taking this into account, it is then obvious that Jesus’ expression was hyperbole rather than His’ clairvoyantly speaking to some future age and practice wherein members of the Church adopted the custom of calling consecrated men ‘father’. That would be ridiculous. It also elevates Protestant scrupulousness regarding a Catholic custom to the level of a core ethical directive that requires Jesus to prophetically warn us, “Do not steal, do not commit adultery, and don’t call any guy your father when it one day becomes fashionable.”

  • tgf

    Was not Jesus being upset at the Jewish leaders at that time because they were obstinate and telling this to put them in their place…?

    • Ken Hensley

      Yes. That’s what I think we communicated in the show. No?

      • tgf

        Yes you did, I asked the question while watching so it was answered. thank you !

  • AJ

    I’m 20min through the article and I don’t want to keep listening. So far all I’ve heard is lots of talk about “I wonder what I would have thought about this when I was a preacher hahaha or I wonder if there has been protestants that took any verses at face value? Well sure look at the snake handlers etc oh right hahaha.”
    Please stick to the topic and explain it. I was hoping for depth, a conversation that would discuss the context of the time or period to which the comments Jesus made could be clearly understood. But you guys rabbit trailing all over the place is confusing the issue and I haven’t learned anything at all up to this point. I’m not writing to bash you but help you see as someone such as myself who is seriously contemplating Catholicism this recording after listening to over half, has discouraged and confused me more than anything. And my fear and anxiety is you will simply end with a general statement like “Jesus was telling the pharases that they are not pleasing God and don’t deserve the title” That is something I think no one needs clarification on. It was pretty clear Jesus shook up the present day establishment. We don’t need to be reminded of that. We need to know why exactly he did that. So far unfortunately I feel like I am listening to someone trying to sell me something and they tell me all the obvious things like “it’s got 4 tires, all round and it was windows and the windows roll down and the doors open and close and the windows roll up and down and if it’s raining you can just simply roll up the window.” And I basically just want to run or buy it because I need it and it will end the conversation.

    • Ken Hensley

      AJ, thanks for your comments. I will take them to heart.

      At the same time, given that many Protestants continue to see this passage as a contradiction of the Catholic practice of calling priests “father” I don’t really see how it is that the points I was making are so obvious that it was a waste of time to be making them, as you suggest. The line of reasoning I wanted to present was:

      (1) to do a reductio ad absurdum on the notion that Jesus’ words were intended to be taken as literally when he said “call no man on earth…” — to show that this would lead to the absurdities of students not being able to call their teachers “teacher” and children their fathers “father.” Is this really a waste of time in trying to understand the passage?

      (2) to show that this would also lead to contradictions within the NT, as the apostles routinely speak of “teachers” and of themselves as spiritual “fathers.”

      (3) to show that Jesus often used hyperbole to make points, and give some illustrations of that. When you have a party, “don’t invite your friends…” “Cut your right arm off…” etc. Since this illuminates, I think, a number of Jesus’ stranger statements, I certainly don’t see this exercise as being useless.

      (4) to lead to the conclusion that Jesus was using hyperbole here as well to emphasize to men who thought too much about honoring and being honored by one another, etc.

      In short, none of these points seem useless to me. In fact, I feel like putting them in this precise order was a good lesson in how to think through an issue of interpretation. No?

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